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November 19, 2015

The “Absolutes” of Florida

by Anne Paddock

There are no absolutes….

This is the time of year when many snowbirds come down to Florida, leaving the cold, icy, grey weather of the northern and western states for a winter of sunshine and warm temperatures. Many of these travelers drive south on I-75, the Florida Turnpike, or I-95, all of which are lined with billboards that may lead them to think that Florida is full of people living in gated communities who shop at a Ron Jon Surf Shop, and need Disney tickets. And, judging by the sheer volume of billboards advertising the services of Alex Shunnarah and The National Life Center, they may also come to believe that visitors or residents need a personal injury lawyer and that Roe vs. Wade was a nuisance judgement set down by the Supreme Court more than 40 years ago that is best ignored. But, billboards don’t tell the full story.

All kidding aside, Florida is like most states:  a mix of contradictions. Known as the Sunshine State, Florida also has plenty of thunderstorms (Clearwater has the highest number of lightning strikes in the US) and torrential downpours that bring more than 50 inches of rain annually, with little or no drought (don’t even think about having a basement in Florida). And, lest anyone think Florida follows the pack, the state has one of the few rivers (the St. John’s that runs 310 miles and is the longest river in the state) that actually flows north instead of south (Some say this is evidence that even rivers don’t want to spend the summer in Florida).

Florida is one of seven states with no income tax countered by a higher state fuel tax (about 36 cents per gallon) – both of which favor the rich and disproportionately tax the poor. Residents benefit from a homestead exemption which reduces the tax assessed value and provides for a cap on the amount the assessment can increase from year-to-year (about 1.5%) but the public school system ranks 28th nationally with a grade of C, which may be because Florida does not spend as much on students in primary and secondary school as other states (the national average is about $10,700 whereas Florida spends about $8,400 according to http://www.governing,com). Phrases such as “you get what you pay for” or “you can pay now or pay later but you will pay” come to mind if we don’t properly educate our population.

Nearly 20 million people live in Florida – the country’s fourth largest populated state – with more females than males, which is not a surprise given the popularity of the state with retirees and that women on average outlive men. 19% of the population are older than 65 compared to a national average of just below 15%. About 56% of the population are white while 24% are Hispanic, 17% are black, and 3% are Indian, Asian, or other. Median household income is $47,000 compared to a national median of $53,000. 16% live below the poverty level compared to 15% nationally.

Drivers in Florida can be aggressive with weavers and distracted drivers readily visible on most roads but Florida ranks 20th in deaths per 100,000 population in fatal crashes. And, yet 2,407 people or nearly 7 people per day lost their lives in fatal crashes in 2013 on Florida roads.

So, for all those who think Florida is full of old cranky white surfer dudes with crappy driving skills who need personal injury lawyers while rethinking Roe vs. Wade – it’s simply not true. There is so much more here than meets the eye. Ignore those billboards.

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